The declassified testimony of Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam’s Vice Presidents, provides ammunition for both sides of the debate on whether Iraq was linked to Al-Qaeda. On the one hand, Tariq Aziz says that Saddam Hussein was “delighted” at the terrorist group’s 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He had respect for Al-Qaeda’s abilities, viewing them as “effective” and Aziz admits that Saddam’s regime supported Abu Abbas, the terrorist who engineered the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro.
Saddam’s support for Abbas went further than previously known and went beyond safe harbor. According to Aziz, Abbas used a farm to raise money for Palestinian militants and “The farm evolved into a camp where Abul Abbas would train fighters with AK-47s” donated by the regime.
The most important thing about Aziz’s testimony is that he describes Saddam as “an anti-American” who looked at attacks on the U.S. with glee. This is the exact opposite of what Saddam Hussein said to his interrogators. Saddam maintained he didn’t really hate the U.S., even admired the country, and he really hated Iran and would even have allied with the U.S. Saddam therefore had the desire to see more terrorist attacks on the U.S. and admired Al-Qaeda’s ability to do it.
On the other hand, Aziz says that Saddam only talked negatively about Osama Bin Laden and that the dictator “did not trust Islamists.” He saw Bin Laden and his ilk as “opportunists” and “hypocrits.” However, as we know from the Iraqi Perspectives Project, Iraq did work with affiliates of Al-Qaeda when their interests coincided. And if Saddam’s claims of being willing to ally with the U.S. are true, then that further proves Saddam didn’t see these differences as a barrier to cooperation.
One more link is discussed: The Iraqi ambassador to the Czech Republic, Samir al-Ani, denies meeting Mohammed Atta in April 2001 as the Czechs originally maintained. But, I’m not buying his testimony at all. First of all, he has no incentive to cooperate. He would never indict himself in such a way and set himself up for prosecution. Additionally, the other things he claims are simply not credible.
Al-Ani claims he never even heard of Osama Bin Laden before 9/11, which is just not believable. He says it is “ludicrous” to believe Iraq had any links to Al-Qaeda or even Zarqawi, and that’s patently false based on the Iraqi Perspectives Project.
The debate about Iraq’s relationship with Al-Qaeda continues. We now know Iraq did have some level of support for Al-Qaeda’s affiliates and trained foreign terrorists. I suppose that ultimately it comes down to what your definition of Al-Qaeda is. If you define Al-Qaeda as Bin Laden and his Afghanistan-stationed leadership, there is no proof of substantial support. If you define Al-Qaeda as including all of the affiliates linked to Bin Laden and sharing the ideology, then Iraq definitely was supporting them to some degree.
But the overall point is this: The U.S. cannot tolerate leaders who have a history of aggression, are anti-American, have a desire to see attacks on the U.S., and maintain links and weapons programs to support such attacks.